My Kingdom for a Cross

Would it be crass to suggest, on Remembrance Sunday, that the fields of Fife College resembled the Somme or Passchendaele? One thing I can almost guarantee is that if anyone taking the trip to Dunfermline had been in the trenches, they’d have likely looked out on No Man’s Land and thought, “I could probably ride that bit….”

There was mud today. Oh there was mud. You may have guessed that. The day had been dull, with a drizzle that has Edinburgh locals reaching for their Hunters, when I left the capital. Then the second, the absolute down-to-the-inch moment, the Forth Road Bridge gave way to solid Fife ground on the northern shores of the estuary, the rains came. It wasn’t quite biblical (for this is a godless place), but having looked at the race map, and spotted flat playing fields ripe for holding onto that falling water, there was an inevitability of dubs.

My cause wasn’t helped by hearing the call for the V40 riders to get to the start line, starting off, then realising I had neither timing chip on my ankle, nor number on my shoulder. Cold hands took care of both in a few minutes, but it meant I was lining up at the back of the grid. Having declared this was not my sort of course, with lengthy leg-sucking sections far from being my forte, I really needed all the help I could get. No time to think about it. Whistle, go.

I knew the start straight wasn’t long, before a slightly off-camber pull to the left, so I pushed it to make a few places, before getting off the bike early to run through the bottleneck. Running became something of normality during the race at a couple of sections I’d scoped out earlier, and this helped me. I’m not a natural runner, but a long stride through deep treacle is sometimes an advantage. And I’ll take any I can get.

Tha first lap was punctuated (to a few disgruntled and frustrated mutterings) often by some narrowings, unclippings, walking through in a polite line. Starting near the back exacerbated the time losses to those ahead, so this was to become a battle with those in the immediate vicinity. However, these narrow singletrack sections became my friend on subsequent laps where, after losing time on the rideable mud, I’d then lose some caution and slink relatively quickly through the trees. Remounts were working better too, thinking properly about placement of the left foot, avoiding the ‘skip’ step for the majority. One particular steep ramp, with a sandbag-protected kerb just before it, got attacked every lap. I hit it hard, each and every time, hung on, and surfaced at the top. I even managed to break free of gravity on the last lap, where a small rise at the bottom of the course was manned by a couple of guys with cardboard signs exhorting us to ‘Jump for Trump’ to ‘Make Cyclocross Great Again’. And despite on little excursion as I hit a rut and found myself entangled in course tape (why does it break for others, but remain stubbornly intact for me?) everything on the bike felt planted and in no danger of staying anything other than rubber side down.

For the fourth race in succession I found myself reeling someone in in front of me, and once again had myself set up to try and sprint as we neared the end. Final turn and kick, look over the shoulder, grabbing 93rd position (my adversary pointed out his chain was skipping on his jockey wheels, but I’m not letting that detract in the slightest). I’ve gained more distance ahead of those I started racing against at the start of the season, getting within two places of Stephen Birrell (my new target). I can’t argue with that.

Caked-on mud necessitated a trip to the car to scrub up – wrapping myself in a large blanket to remove the bibshorts with respectability being completely ruined by pulling on dry boxers and not realising I’d hooked the blanket into the back as I hoiked them up. Inadvertent moonings aside, a successful re-clothing, and time for a burrito while watching the Open race unfold. Gary MacDonald clearly decided to try and blow the race apart from the whistle, a tactic which almost worked before the dominant Harry Johnston nabbed top step from him by about 22 seconds. I love watching these guys ride, as well as the likes of Davie Lines, Rab Wardell, and pretty much most in the top 20, who make it all look so damned easy.

It was also a notable day for Craig Hardie making his return to cross, riding in my V40 event, and taking 3rd spot in such speedy fashion that I didn’t even notice him lapping me (Gary McCrae once again the class of the field, with Stevie Jackson not far behind).

And special mention to Nicola Johnson who, as you’ll see in the pic above, is quite simply the happiest person in cross. Or slightly deranged. It’s a fine line.

That’s my last cross race of the year, sadly. Not that it’ll stop me posting the odd thing here (ranging from odd to downright bizarre really). And then there’s the 2017 SuperQuaich series. In the meantime thank you to all the Dunfermline round organisers and their little elves around the course. And apologies, I appear to have taken half of Fife home with me stuck to the bike.

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